The University of Pennsylvania has issued an apology after it was discovered that one of its museums stored remains of a MOVE bombing victim for more than 30 years.
According to the Washington Post, city officials wanted to determine if the remains belonged to Katricia “Tree” Africa, a 14-year-old killed in the bombing. They were not able to do so. The university then gave them to Alan Mann, a forensic anthropologist at the University of Pennsylvania, to see if he could come to a determination.
He could not.
So instead of getting the bones to the family, the university shelved them and shuttled them between academics and used them in videos for an online college course. News of this disgusting act came out in a Philadelphia Inquirer op-ed and a story in Billy Penn, a local news outlet. The articles reopened long-standing wounds in Philly. The act of police violence was one of the most egregious in the city’s history.
The University of Pennsylvania apologized, but Mike Africa Jr., an activist and second-generation MOVE member, said that more needed to be done.
“Who would do something like this? And without permission, without consent from the parents?” he told the Washington Post. The victims, he added, “were people. They didn’t deserve to be bombed and then put in a lab to become research material.”
In May 1985, Philadelphia Police Department tried to force members of MOVE out of their house by deploying water cannons, tear gas and 10,000 rounds of ammunition, claiming they were responding to shots from inside. After that, they dropped a bomb filled with C-4 explosives on the MOVE house’s roof. It started a fire that left 11 of its members dead, including five kids, and razed some 60 homes in the Black neighborhood.
Here is more on how the remains got shuffled around:
The Philadelphia medical examiner’s office was unable to identify two fragments — the burned pelvic and femur bones — and transferred the bones to Mann.
But the professor was never able to conclude that the bones belonged to 14-year-old Tree, he told the Inquirer this week. According to Billy Penn, a local news outlet, some scholars and family members have floated the possibility that they instead were from another child, 12-year-old Delisha Africa, or an older victim of the bombing.
Mann kept the remains at the Penn Museum until 2001, when he took a job at Princeton University and brought them along, the Inquirer reported. The bones appeared to stay there until 2016, when Janet Monge, Mann’s former student and another University of Pennsylvania anthropologist, tried again to identify them. (Neither Mann nor Monge responded to requests for comment from The Post.)
“I would’ve given them back years ago, if anyone had asked me,” Mann told the Inquirer. “There’s absolutely no reason for us to keep them. They should be given back.”
But they never were. Instead, Monge also used the bones as a “case study” in an online Princeton course. Video of the class, which has since been taken down, showed Monge picking up and describing the bones, the Guardian reported.
In 2019, Philadelphia city officials issued a formal apology about the MOVE bombing. It wasn’t until this spring, when the Penn Museum came under scrutiny over its collection of dozens of Black people’s skulls, that the story about the bones came to light.
Penn Museum has reached out to the Africa family to discuss how the remains can be returned to them.
The news continues to leave Africa, the second-generation MOVE member, in shock.
“I thought everybody was buried,” he said. “I had no idea that Penn was keeping the remains of some of them.”